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Paul Bremer, Ski Instructor: Learning To Shred With The Bush Administration's Iraq War Fall Guy
Lots of people want to be ski instructors at the Okemo Mountain Resort. Nobody gets rich doing it, but there are perks, including a free season pass and half-price meals at the Sitting Bull Bar & Lounge. Named one of the best places to work in Vermont for five years running, Okemo employs more than 400 instructors, who run “a really wide gamut,” according to Chris Saylor, the school’s director. So when a 74-year-old retiree applied for the gig a few years back, Saylor didn’t think much of it. The man skied well and had a friendly, patient demeanor. He also seemed to embody the company’s core values: safety, service, sustainability and teamwork.
At some point, Saylor scanned the former employers on the man's resume, and a couple names stuck out right away.
Henry Kissinger… Donald Rumsfeld…
As it happened, the applicant had an illustrious background in foreign affairs. His career in government spanned five administrations and three decades. He worked hand-in-glove with six different Secretaries of State, and was a fly on the wall for every major event from the resignation of President Nixon and the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam to the Iran-Contra scandal and the downing of Pan Am 103. But Paul Bremer, who also goes by Jerry, is best remembered for the 14 months he spent in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, when he served as the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Before he ran moguls, he ran Mosul. And Ramadi, Tikrit and Baghdad.
And on a recent morning in February — a day about 10 degrees too warm for gloves, with patches of brown grass peeking through the snow — he schooled Task & Purpose on the elegant mechanics of the parallel turn.
As I told him off the bat, I’m a lousy skier. My method is essentially to plummet for 20 feet or so, skid to a probationary standstill, twist and repeat, on down the mountain, poles dancing wildly behind me. I put up a brave front for my kids, but deep down I find the experience terrifying.
“I specialize in fear,” Bremer told me with a wink. “Taking it away.”
Now 76, Jerry Bremer still resembles a lost Kennedy brother, with a square jaw, thick hair, straight white teeth, and a deep tan. When he’s teaching — which he does full-time, five days a week, in season — he wears black ski pants and a regulation blue Spyder jacket bearing an embossed name tag, a badge from the Professional Ski Instructors of America, and an Okemo “Making a Difference” lapel pin. Black mittens, a helmet and goggles complete the ensemble.
A patient coach, he started me off on the practice slope. As I skied down the gentle incline, he observed my form. My snow plough was fine, he told me afterward, but I kept straightening my knees. “Keep your shin against the tongue of the boot,” he suggested. “Remember: shin-tung, shin-tung, like they say in Korea.” I groaned as we made our way back to the conveyor-belt style lift, aka “the magic carpet.”
My ski lesson, as Bremer fully understood, was a pretext. With the 15-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq looming, I had begun to wonder about the man almost unanimously blamed for just about everything that’s gone wrong in the region ever since. His tenure as the country’s top authority — variously identified as a “civilian administrator,” “Presidential envoy,” or “viceroy” — was controversial almost from the start, beginning with the decision on his fifth day in country to bar all senior members of the Baath Party from holding public jobs. That fiat, entitled Order No. 1, came to be viewed as the original sin of the occupation, the hubristic first domino that set off the insurgency and ultimately the emergence of the Islamic State. Bremer followed up a week later with what many considered an even more ruinous misstep, Order No. 2, which disbanded the Iraqi military with the stroke of a pen.
As he has regularly pointed out, neither idea originated with him. “There’s a lot of very convenient memory loss going on,” he told me. But he made sure the orders bore his signature. A sense of lawlessness had by then become pervasive, and after Rumsfeld’s seemingly indifferent response, Bremer felt it was critical to demonstrate the arrival of a new sheriff in town. But as the effects began to be felt, criticism mounted. By the time he left Iraq, posing for the media in a decoy C-130 for security reasons before being bundled off to a Gulfstream jet for the actual trip home, Bremer had effectively been labeled the man who lost Iraq. As he made clear in his 2006 memoir, he has believed from the beginning that his tenure would be vindicated when the dust finally settled. In the meantime, he’s spent the last decade and a half patiently waiting for history to finally render a favorable judgment.
* * *
Though he had a long, admirable track record as a public servant, Bremer was hardly an obvious choice for the job of CPA administrator. For one thing, he’d never set foot in Iraq before being tapped to oversee the place, had no military experience, and didn’t speak Arabic. But he was an experienced manager with a background in the foreign service and a Harvard MBA. He was a lifelong Republican, with solid contacts in conservative policy circles (particularly in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney). Unlike most of his fellow diplomats, proud members of the “reality-based community” so scorned by the White House, he bought into the neocons’ missionary project — the use of American military power to remake the world along democratic lines. And he could point to solid counterterrorism cred, having chaired a commision on the subject that predicted, more than a year before 9/11, that terror groups would increasingly seek to mount mass-casualty attacks in the U.S. “on the scale of Pearl Harbor.”
When Bremer got the call, he’d been out of government for years and was running a crisis consulting firm. “I could certainly imagine there were more qualified candidates,” he admitted. But you don’t turn down the President. Just two weeks after his wife, Francie, signed off on the idea — “It was a real shockerocka for our family!” she told me — he stepped into his office in Saddam’s old Republican Palace, charged with “all executive, legislative and judicial functions” in Iraq. As a civilian, he had no authority over the U.S. military, a fact that would later prove consequential. But in just about every other sense, Bremer was to be a benevolent strongman, if only a “provisional” one, with the fates of 25 million Iraqis in his hands. And he was not shy about exercising that power. Once, when a senior British official wondered about the legalities of certain tactics for combating oil smuggling, he is said to have fired back, “I am the law.”
If Bremer found his new gig daunting, he never said so. “I had a job, and my approach to it was, I’m going to give it my damnedest,” he told me. Apres-ski espressos in hand, we were sitting in his office in the cozy Victorian home he and Francie purchased in a Rockwellian Vermont town around the time he was whisked to Iraq. Having changed out of his snow gear, he wore a brown wool sweater over a white turtleneck, jeans and slippers (his famous Timberlands, the ones he sported with a business suit during his CPA tenure, have been consigned to the attic).
Bremer’s home office is piled with books, as well as mementos from his career, including his Presidential Medal of Freedom, a photo of his first meeting with President Bush, and an embroidered Iraqi flag with a message of thanks “for your remarkable heroism, vision, energy, leadership and unmatched dedication,” presented to him by his CPA team in Mosul. There’s also a certificate affirming that he has “met the requirements and standards” of a Level I Alpine Ski Instructor and a ball cap declaring him the Okemo Ski + Ride School’s “most awesome rookie.”
“I always said, ‘This is going to take years, not months.’ Nobody ever contradicted me.”
Lewis Paul Bremer III grew up in preppie Connecticut, the oldest of five children. To avoid confusion, he’s been called Jerry (after St. Jerome, on whose Feast Day he was born) since childhood. His father, a teacher, volunteered for the Navy after Pearl Harbor and subsequently became president of Christian Dior Perfumes. His mother was a photographer who later taught art history. Bremer went to school at the WASPy Phillips Academy, Andover, and attended Yale as an undergraduate. He then did a stint at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris, an elite university attended by nearly every major politician in France, before heading to business school. Though he’d planned on a corporate career, the influence of his father led him in a different direction. “He told his five children almost daily around the kitchen table how lucky we were to be born in America at this time,” he recalled. Bremer decided to repay the debt.
His first State Department posting was Kabul. The late 1960s was a sleepy time in Afghanistan. Bremer and Francie spent two years there, during which time one of his most memorable projects was creating the country’s first ski run. “I found this hut on one of the hills on the road south to Ghazni,” he recalled. The skiing was great, but walking up the hill soon grew tiresome, so he and some friends decided to build their own rope tow. At the famous bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan, they commissioned a 200-meter length of rope measuring two inches wide. “The guy’s eyes lit up,” Bremer recalled of the rope merchant who landed the contract. “This was his annuity.” Two weeks later, they loaded the massive coil into a truck, hauled it up the mountain and attached it to the jacked up wheel of a busted car they’d liberated from the U.S. aid mission. “We hooked it to a couple of pulleys, cranked it up and off we went.”
Jerry and Francie then spent a few uneventful years in Malawi before Bremer was rotated back to work at the Pentagon in the National Military Command Center. A stint in Norway followed, along with a succession of senior staff positions in the State Department. He later served as ambassador to the Netherlands and for counterterrorism under Ronald Reagan.
[media-credit name="Paul Bremer, left, with Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney and President Gerald Ford on Air Force One in 1975. (White House)" align="aligncenter" width="742"][/media-credit]
The greatest influence on Bremer’s career has undoubtedly been Henry Kissinger. He began working for the divisive Secretary of State during the final years of the Vietnam War, later becoming chief of staff at the consulting firm Kissinger Associates. Bremer works closely with the 94-year-old eminence to this day. But Kissinger’s famous practice of realpolitik — a steely-eyed approach to foreign policy based not on ideology but on cold calculation — doesn’t seem to have had held much sway with Bremer, whose vision for Iraq was more closely aligned with the grandiose, messianic fervor of the neocons. Like the dewy-eyed Bush, he pictured Iraq as a beacon of democracy, spreading the light of liberty throughout the region, whereas Kissinger would have settled for a tinpot autocracy, as long as it did our bidding. “The Kissinger view would have been, ‘Go in, smash everything, break everything, find a colonel, give him a hat and a baton, and go home,’” Bremer said. “And as I have said to him, that would not have worked. The state of our intelligence on Iraq was practically nil. We could not have found a colonel we could trust even if we wanted to. And George W. Bush was not about to send half a million Americans halfway around the world and go home with some colonel in charge.”
If his time in the foreign service taught him anything, Bremer said, it was that “no easy decision arrives on the President’s desk if the staff is doing their job.” In other words, work independently, take care of business, and don’t nag the boss for sign-offs on every little thing.
It was this lesson as much as anything else that arguably led him astray as CPA administrator. In the spring of 2003, with the invasion complete and looters picking the country clean while U.S. troops stood by, there were still some very not-very-easy decisions to be made, and the President and members of his cabinet were struggling to make them. Perhaps the biggest was whether to hand off power to an appointed government or to dig in for a lengthy process of nation-building. Both the CIA under George Tenet and the State Department, led by retired Gen. Colin Powell, believed that setting Iraq up with a functioning representative government would take time and commitment. Bremer agreed. The DOD and the military, still basking in the afterglow of a quick, painless victory, were eager to claim a win and move on. Bush himself seems to have wavered on the question — a problem that became evident just a few days before Bremer arrived in Baghdad. “On May 7, just the day after I’d met the President and emphasized ‘It’s going to be a marathon, blah blah blah,’ [Bremer’s predecessor] Jay Garner announces to the press he’s going to appoint a government the next week,” he told me. Hearing the news on the radio on his way to the Pentagon, Bremer almost drove off the George Washington Parkway. “I mean, What? What the hell is he talking about?”
He doesn’t doubt that Lt. Gen. Garner was acting to implement what he honestly believed to be the agreed-upon plan. But that plan was never actually written down or memorialized anywhere. And sometime in early April, Bremer supposes, as chaos grew, there was a shift in the President’s thinking. “Somebody must have said to him, probably Powell or Tenet, ‘Look, Mr. President, the place is a mess. We can’t get in and out. It’s going to take some time.’ Bush apparently reversed himself.”
Before Bremer officially accepted the appointment, he extracted a promise in a private meeting that, in the President’s words, “We’re not going to abandon Iraq. We’ll stay until the job is done.”
“Bremer and the military were pursuing conflicting goals,” Ricks said.
That kind of resolute language was typical of Bush, but while Bremer treated it as a strategic imperative, it actually left a lot of latitude — as did the fact that the president made the comment privately. Bremer continuously sought to reinforce the point in meetings with others present. “I always said, ‘This is going to take years, not months.’ Nobody ever contradicted me,’” he insists.
But with State and Defense pursuing two contrary strategies, and Bush seemingly happy to split the difference, the necessary clarity of purpose never materialized. Some of the responsibility no doubt falls to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, whose job it was as head of the NSC to coordinate policy among the various agencies. But doing so effectively required her to corral Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell, all swaggering figures with decades of experience in the bureaucratic trenches. It took her years to bring them to heel, and Bush himself didn’t fare much better.
Nonetheless, Bremer is reluctant to assign blame. “One has to be fairly humble in trying to figure out why things happen at high levels of government,” he cautions. “It’s not totally explicable.” Then again, he admits, “It’s a fair criticism that there doesn’t seem to have been a tight NSC coordination of where Bush was headed regarding particular decisions. That led to a lot of ambiguity, into which people could drive their own agendas — and they subsequently did.”
He was speaking mostly about the DoD and the commanding generals, but they would undoubtedly say the same of him. “Bremer and the military were pursuing conflicting goals,” noted Task & Purpose’s Tom Ricks, author of the best-selling history of the Iraq war, Fiasco. “Bremer was trying to carry out a revolution, making Iraq a free-market, flat-tax democracy, and the U.S. military said its mission was stability.”
Ultimately, this fundamental misalignment seems to have played into what Bremer still considers the chief strategic error of the occupation: a failure from the beginning to deploy enough troops to provide adequate security. He brought up the issue with Bush during their very first meeting, pointing to a study by his friend Jim Dobbins at the RAND Corporation, calling for 500,000 troops — around three times the amount in the country at that moment. The President noted that Powell was trying to wrangle more allies but otherwise remained noncommittal. “I’ll mention it,” he said.
Bremer had already highlighted the same study to Donald Rumsfeld, who never acknowledged the message.
Bremer has tried to put himself in the Defense Secretary’s shoes. At the time, Rumsfeld had been preoccupied by a war of his own — his crusade to remake the U.S. military into a leaner, more agile fighting force. The quick success in Iraq had validated this approach, and he likely feared that flooding postwar Iraq with American troops would undercut his new doctrine. “He was constantly fighting for fewer troops,” Bremer said. “And he was wrong about that, as subsequent events showed.”
Not only would Bremer never get the military support he’d asked for, but before long, his colleagues in Washington would be pushing for reductions. “The military attitude was ‘Thank you very much for your interest in national defense. Now get lost,’” Ricks said. Bremer recalled a May 2003 meeting in “the tank,” the briefing room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which he was informed that Defense hoped to reduce troop strength from 180,000 to just 30,000. “My jaw dropped,” he recalled with disbelief all these years later. “But that was Rumsfeld’s plan!”
At this point, Bremer made a critical calculation. Rather than scale back his own utopian vision of postwar Iraq and adopt a more modest and achievable set of goals, he dug in. “What, do I just throw my hands up?” he said. “I went to the President. I said, they’re playing games with you. You need more troops, ten or fifteen brigades.” They never materialized.
[media-credit name="Bremer in Tikrit on April 23, 2004, after talks with tribal leaders. (Muhammed Muheisen-Pool/Getty Images)" align="aligncenter" width="840"][/media-credit]
As it happened, there was one other reason not to put more boots on the ground. “The president had a problem,” Bremer pointed out. “He was going for reelection in 2004.” A troop rotation was due, and there was little appetite for calling up more reserves, especially from swing states. “I wasn’t trying to make additional problems for him, but I told him he didn’t have enough troops. I told him they didn’t have the right strategy. Unfortunately, he didn’t come to that conclusion until the end of 2006 rather than in 2003.”
* * *
Bremer has long insisted that the infamous Order No. 1, calling for de-Baathification, had been approved at the highest levels of government well before he signed it, and that it sent a crucial message to the Iraqi people that one of the Saddam’s most effective tools of repression was truly history. “It was the single most popular thing we did while I was in Iraq,” he said. He does admit, however, that he erred in handing off responsibility for carrying out the order to the Iraqi Governing Council, who were far more aggressive in implementing it than he’d intended.
As for disbanding the military, Bremer claims the Iraqi army had already disbanded itself. “There was no army when I got there,” he said. “They were gone. Even the barracks were gone,” picked clean by looters. One solution often raised by Bremer’s detractors would have been to recall selected units — not the dreaded Fedayeen Saddam or Special Republican Guard, perhaps, but elements of the standing army. “I reject that,” he said. “I just flat reject it. The Kurds were very clear and the Shia were very clear, if you bring back that army, the Kurds were going [to secede] and the Shia would stop cooperating.”
“I still believe it was the right decision. If I get blamed later, okay. That's life in the big city."
Many officials disagreed. “You could have reconstituted that military in our employ in a heartbeat,” Sam Faddis, who ran the CIA operation that laid the groundwork for the invasion, told Task & Purpose. “And instead of 160,000 Americans trying to be police, firemen and everything else, you would have had the Iraqi military running checkpoints and we never would have had all the chaos.”
Among those who later claimed to be stunned by Bremer’s move were Powell, Rice, Garner, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, ground forces commander during the invasion, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers. Bush himself later expressed surprise about the order, and Gen. David Petraeus said it should have been handled differently, by simultaneously announcing a stipend for former Iraqi soldiers along with a clear path to a career in the reconstituted armed forces. (Both were eventually implemented, albeit two months later.) Even Jim Dobbins, author of the RAND study calling for more troops, concluded in a follow up that the dissolution of the army had been mishandled. There was, he wrote, “no good reason” that plans to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate individual soldiers were not part of the original order. “It would have been better to put all Iraqi army personnel on inactive status, continue to pay them, and recall individuals incrementally and selectively,” Dobbins elaborated.
“We had a reintegration program!” Bremer said. “You can argue about its size and speed, but those are details.”
In any case, the view quickly crystallized that Orders 1 and 2 had been catastrophic blunders, and that these two fateful decisions were largely responsible for the growth of the insurgency. “We created half a million angry, armed, unemployed Iraqis in 48 hours,” Garner later said, adding, “That’s dumb.” As Powell put it in his memoir, “We eliminated the very officials and institutions we should have been building on, and left thousands of the most highly skilled people in the country jobless and angry — prime recruits for insurgency.”
[media-credit name="A collection of challenge coins in Bremer's foyer. (Aaron Gell)" align="alignnone" width="840"][/media-credit]
“I don’t doubt that some [former Baathists and Iraqi soldiers] might have gone over to the enemy,” Bremer said. “But if they did it’s not because of the money but because they didn’t believe in moving Iraq to a democratic form of government. So this is fantasy talk, people who are saying that. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” He still grows heated over the issue. “All evidence on the ground was that this was the right decision, and I still believe it was the right decision. If I get blamed later, okay. That’s life in the big city.”
Bremer did get blamed — relentlessly. For all the dangers he encountered in Baghdad, including at least one close call during which his up-armored SUV hit an IED and was simultaneously attacked with small arms fire, he was also becoming a target in Washington. At one point in the fall of 2004, White House chief of staff Andy Card pulled him aside told him as much. “They’re gaming you,” he said of Bremer’s fellow bureaucrats.
It got pretty intense. One especially scathing review came from former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who pronounced Bremer “the largest single disaster in American foreign policy in modern times.”
In retrospect, that was a considerable stretch no matter what one thought of his CPA tenure. Jerry Bremer, after all, wasn’t the one who took the country to war under false pretenses in pursuit of a utopian vision, or who failed to adequately plan for the aftermath. “Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Feith actually made the big mistake,” Ricks pointed out. “Bremer was the guy they sent in to run the mistake after they’d made it.”
Still, it was probably inevitable that Bremer would become the fall guy. Once he handed sovereignty to the Iraqis — two days early, to keep the insurgents guessing — the entire CPA ceased to exist. By contrast, the Departments of Defense and State weren’t going anywhere. Neither were the NSA, the intelligence agencies, or the offices of the President and Vice President. Such institutions had a vested interest in avoiding blame, and plenty of expertise in doing so. Bremer was more or less on his own. He also saw the interagency finger-pointing as unpatriotic.
“I knew how the game was played, and I realized I was going to be vulnerable,” he told me. “But I wasn’t looking to protect myself. When you get to a position like this, you do what you think is right, or you resign and take the consequences.
“It’s not a very pleasant experience,” he added of the ensuing pile-on. “But I had seen enough of high-level people getting hung out to dry during my Washington tours. It happens.”
For all of the disapproval lobbed his way, Bremer was never accused of shirking the job. Despite feeling undercut, he served diligently. He rarely slept more than a few hours, and sometimes demanded that recalcitrant members of the Governing Council negotiate around the clock for days on end until they’d reached an agreement. He seemed to thrive on the small details, rushing around the country with his security team, going from school ribbon-cuttings to power station walkthroughs to sit-downs with ministry leaders and tribal chiefs, all while trying to train a police force, restore essential services, issue a new currency, remake the stock market, privatize the economy, and contend with what he called the “8000-mile screwdriver” wielded by Beltway bureaucrats.
[media-credit name="Bremer poses with a C-130 after handing off sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004. He would later leave the country in another plane. (Ali Jassim/Getty Images)" align="aligncenter" width="840"][/media-credit]
In the end, he could point to some significant accomplishments. He established the Iraq Governing Council; maintained the fragile coalition despite numerous obstacles thrown up by the powerful Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani; handed power to an interim government, and even managed to leave Iraq with a solid framework for a model constitution. His team helped restore electrical power to better-than-prewar levels, completed some 22,000 reconstruction projects, and nudged the country toward a free-market economy. The year after he left, Iraqis went to the polls and participated in their first genuine elections. Bremer still believes deposing Saddam Hussein and putting the country on the path to representative democracy was the right thing to do. “The Iraqi people are infinitely better off today out from under Saddam, even after all the problems that admittedly are there,” he said, “and they have the men and women of our armed forces and elsewhere to thank for it.”
* * *
A few years after he’d returned to the states, Bremer was riding his bicycle in Chevy Chase, Maryland, when he connected with a tree branch. He was sidelined on the roadway’s shoulder, assessing the damage, when another cyclist stopped to help. Eventually, the good samaritan gave him a look. “Wait,” he asked, “aren’t you the guy who screwed up Iraq?”
That’s how it was for awhile.
“I’ll tell you a story,” Francie Bremer said, sitting in the kitchen as the couple’s tiny Maltese, a rescue named Bella, lapped water nearby.
“Here we go!” Jerry put in, rolling his eyes as he threw a handful of sliced garlic into a pan on the home’s custom-built French stove.
Two decades after Francie had cowritten a “survival guide for wives” called Coping With His Success, she found herself facing the opposite problem. One morning following his return from Iraq, she’d opened the Style section of the Washington Post to find a little item about how a smart-alecky group of Harvard students, citing Bremer’s “incompetence, arrogance and corruption,” had awarded him some sort of joke medal.
“Well, I started to cry,” she said, thinking back to the many nights she’d spent with their church congregation praying for his safe return. She complained to an editor at the paper. While the woman expressed sympathy, of course no apology was forthcoming.
“He fought as well as he could,” Francie said. “But it was a zeitgeist, it had turned, and there was very little he could do. We survived it. We decided it was not going to wreck our lives. It was the worst possible job, and I think he did it with a great deal of honor.”
With the possible exception of Dick Cheney, the reputations of Bremer’s former colleagues fared somewhat better. President George W. Bush has recently enjoyed an unexpected renaissance as a fondly remembered statesman and talented painter. The war’s neocon architects mostly landed respectable sinecures at establishment think tanks (Douglas Feith, former undersecretary for policy at DoD, is at the Hudson Institute; Paul Wolfowitz is at the American Enterprise Institute). Powell serves on the boards of Salesforce and the Council on Foreign Relations. Rice teaches at Stanford. Rumsfeld received a “Defender of the Constitution Award” from the Conservative Political Action Committee in 2011 and went on to market a solitaire app.
Bremer, meanwhile, mostly kept his head down. Like the former commander-in-chief, he took up painting. (Though his wistful oils lack the musicality of W.’s best works, pieces like “Sunset with Man’s Best Friend” do carry a distinct emotional power.) He became a dedicated cyclist, riding cross-country with a group of wounded warriors, and wrote a book about the experience. He occasionally accepted speaking engagements, learning over time how to handle the inevitable hecklers. And of course, he skied. Compared to running the CPA, “It’s much more relaxing,” he said with a laugh. “And you can see where you’re going.”
[media-credit name="Bremer with his pet Maltese, Bella. (Aaron Gell)" align="alignnone" width="840"][/media-credit]
Gradually, Bremer appears to have come to terms with the vitriol. “He still answers hate mail,” Francie told me. “People will say, ‘Do you consider yourself a war criminal?’ Or ‘Why don’t you go commit harakiri?’ Nice things like that. But I think he’s much more at peace now. We both are.”
Still, it’s quite a comedown for a man who, back in the summer of 2003, was being talked up for a top cabinet post himself. At a high point of his CPA tenure, Bremer received a note from Colin Powell joking that he was probably measuring the drapes in the Secretary of State’s office. The viceroy’s reply: “‘When I get out of here — if I ever get out of here — I’m going to Vermont and I’m going to show you a Rip Van Winkle act like you’ve never seen,” he vowed. “I’m going to sleep for years.”
* * *
“That was beautiful!” Bremer congratulated me as I completed what turned out to be my eighth and final run on the baby slope. “Did it feel good?”
It did. At last, we made for the chairlift.
It was hard not to see reminders of Bremer’s approach to the occupation in his methodical teaching style. In Iraq, after all, despite the intense pressure from all corners to execute a swift transfer of power, Bremer was reluctant to give up authority until he felt certain the Iraqis were ready to build successfully on the foundation he’d laid for them. (Kissinger himself is said to have called him a “control freak.”)
But then I spoke to his boss Chris Saylor. A lot of novice instructors “want to teach everything they know in the first hour,” he told me. “Paul never had a problem with that.” In adopting a go-slow approach, it turned out, Bremer was following orders after all.
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